Sunday, July 22, 2012

Welcome Home

Back to the 5 am wake ups! But that's all right, because it has already been a productive morning as a result.

The trip back from India took about 30 hours in total travel time. This may even be a little bit of an underestimate. It was a long trip full of my usual misadventures. 

It began with the taxi that switched drivers through the course of a 1.5 hour, twisting and winding drive through random parts of Bombay to the airport. We ran 3 red lights that were nearly fatal (this is post Bombay Diana speaking. Which means I got used to cars essentially scraping the door of the cab I was in, turning in front of us, nearly hitting bikers, cows, trucks coming the wrong way down the street... etc.) I joked about it once, but I am fairly certain that the only way I personally could survive driving my own car in India would be if I was completely out of my mind. Either because I had lost my mind or I was drugged out somehow and unable to fully understand everything going on around me. You have to leave everything at the door and survive by instinct. Everything happens in milliseconds on those roads. From the heels of your plastic rain flats melting to the bottom of the car, to the driver pulling over, jumping and and being replaced by some guy who walked out of a convenience store... yeah. None of these things would fly in the US. Cool life experience...?

I made it to the airport by blaring music in my ears and disorienting myself as much as possible (not something I am normally ok with doing) but it meant I was a lot calmer by the time I reached the airport than I usually was after stepping out of cabs in the city. 

The following hours were a mix of papers, filling out forms, being absolutely scalped in the exchange rate for my last rupees into dollars (there are signs everywhere before you enter Satan's Playground, also known as the desks in the airport where you go through the final immigrant exit proceedings for India, that declare: Rupees are a controlled currency, you cannot carry them past immigration. The men sitting at the exchange counters lit up and looked like their were about to jump into the air and click their heels when they saw me walking by reading their signs. YES YES COME HERE DUMB TOURIST YESSSSSS, was what their faces said to me.) I then sat in various airport public spaces trying to figure out what time my body THOUGHT it was versus what time it actually was...

and unimaginable kindness. All because my arms were marked with henna! 

First episode of this kindness took place when I went through the gender segregated security check at the Mumbai international airport. The woman who had to screen me after I somehow set off the metal detector (I honestly wasn't wearing anything but thin cotton and a watch) tried so hard not to smile at me. She was a really tough looking lady. And then her face cracked, as she point to my arms and said, "henna!" She grinned at me during the rest of the very brief check before she waved me off. Of course, I was still super excited about it, so I was babbling about how creative the student who painted my arms was, and where I went and all of this. 

Second episode was when I needed to buy a water bottle found out a few nasty little surprises:
1) the airport only accepted rupees
2) JUST KIDDING ABOUT RUPEES BEING SO STRICTLY CONTROLLED THEN! Awesome. I was burned in the exchange rate on the way back AND didnt have anything to give the guy that he would accept for the water bottle. stellar. 

As I was thinking about how I could get rid of my headache (which was from not drinking water all day... because I am brilliant like than sometimes...), one of those rare cases where a random stranger commits a random act of kindness happened.

The man standing behind me in line bought me one and tossed it to me. He had listened to me argue in vain and nearly try to bribe the guy behind the cash register with dollars for a water bottle, and then decided to help me out. I was speechless. He pointed to my arms and said that he liked them. In an airport of all places. I consider airports to be the spaces where rudeness is almost acceptable because everyone is confused and lost and tired. I dont really seem them as spaces for random acts of kindness but I was stunned and very happy!

Later on when I was searching for a very specific kind of candy that my father loves and requested that I find for him 7 weeks earlier when he heard that I was flying through Britain en route to Boston, a saleswoman stopped me and asked about my arms. She was curious about the color and the design and the meaning of the patterns. It was nice. She tried to give me chocolate and some other samples from all over the store but I still felt queazy from from flight and had to say no. All the same, she was extremely friendly, helpful and nearly went on the quest for this candy with me until I found what I wanted. 

And on the last flight from London to Boston, when I felt stir crazy for the first time in a LONG time, I was sitting next to a little girl who looked like me when I was 8 years old. Same hair color, skin tone, eye color. (This has been a trip with a weird number of dopplegängers running around) She and her grandmother (?) were Romanian, so they couldnt really talk to me, but they were really cute with each other so it made me smile. The little girl liked my henna, I kept seeing her staring at it, so eventually I reached out my arm and let her touch it. She traced some of the lines and grinned at me. I felt like I was sharing HOW AWESOME this experience was with everyone.

So many kudos to Mishel.

And now I'm back. Still wearing my brightly colored Indian clothes everyday, but now my henna covered arms and feet are visible to all. I'm loving it :)

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